Category Archives: Reviews

The One Book Every Beer Nerd Should Own

The Oxford Companion to Beer book with Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen gueuze bottles

Last Christmas I received a number of great beer-related gifts, including a set of Spiegelau Beer Connoisseur glasses that I use all the time. But the gift that I’ve got the most from is The Oxford Companion to Beer. The book is an amazingly in-depth encyclopedia-like tome with information on just about everything you could ever want to know about beer. I consult it constantly, to clarify beer terminology, do research for posts on this blog and much more.

The Oxford Companion to Beer is edited by Brooklyn Brewery Brewmaster Garrett Oliver. But it’s composed of writings from more than 165 beer experts from more than 20 countries. And though some entries go into painstaking detail, the majority of the book is easy to read and understand. And it’s organized alphabetically so it’s easy to look up whatever beer, brewery, brewing method or any other term you’re interested in.

The book doesn’t come cheap, with a cover price of $65. But it’s worth the money, in my opinion, and you can find deals on The Oxford Companion to Beer online at sites like Amazon.com, which currently sells the hardcover version of the book for $38.40 plus shipping and the digital Kindle edition for just $19.24.

I highly recommend picking up a copy. I’ve read a number of books and articles on beer and brewing, but The Oxford Companion to Beer is by far my favorite.

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Dogfish Head Birra Etrusca Bronze Ancient Ale Review

Dogfish Head Birra Etrusca Bronze

Last month, I told you Dogfish Head Craft Brewery’s new Ancient Ale, Birra Etrusca Bronze, would be hitting beer-store shelves in December. Today, I got my hands on a bottle of Birra Etrusca, the sixth widely distributed beer in Dogfish’s Ancient Ales series. (Dogfish also made two more Ancient Ales, T’ej and Chicha, but they were released in limited quantities.)

The idea behind Dogfish’s Ancient Ales is to recreate lost styles of beer from ancient times, using recipes and ingredients that are as close as possible to those originally used by their brewers. (For some Ancient-Ale-related humor, check out this cartoon that pokes fun at Dogfish.)

Here are some details about Birra Etrusca, from Dogfish Head:

“To develop the recipe for Birra Etrusca Bronze, Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione traveled to Rome with molecular archaeologist Dr. Pat McGovern. With the help of Birreria Brother Brewers Leo DeVencenzo of Birra del Borgo and Teo Musso of Baladin, they analyzed drinking vessels found in 2,800-year-old Etruscan tombs.”

And here’s my review:

First of all, Dogfish’s Ancient Ales probably aren’t for novice beer drinkers. They’re challenging in a number of ways, and most don’t really taste like beer, at least not what most average drinkers expect beer to taste like.

I poured my 1-pint, 9.4-fl.-oz. bottle slowly into a Dogfish Head Signature Glass, and it formed a small-to-medium size head that dissipated quickly. Carbonation is very fine. The beer is aromatic with notable honey, leather and yeast scents. It’s a nice light, brownish-tan color, and it’s very clear and thin looking when held up to a light.

Dogfish Head Birra Etrusca Bronze Color

Birra Etrusca is made with two-row malted barley, heirloom Italian wheat, hazelnut flour, pomegranates, Italian chestnut honey, Delaware wildflower honey and clover honey, raisins, whole-flower hops, gentian root and the sarsaparilla-like Ethiopian myrrh resin, according to the brewer.

The three kinds of honey make this beer taste sweet with notable honey flavors that blend nicely with malty, funky flavors. The brew has an ABV of 8.5%, and the high-ish alcohol content provides a nice warming effect to the mildly bitter aftertaste, which is a result of the hops, gentian root and myrrh resin. Dogfish Birra Estrusca Bronze is definitely a unique, interesting brew, but I’m not sure I’ll ever pick up another bottle again. Like all the other Ancient Ales, it’s more unique than it is very tasty.

My bottle of Birra Etrusca Bronze cost $14.99, which isn’t cheap, but about what I expected, based on the price of other Dogfish specialty beers. It’s also probably not a beer you’ll drink very often, so its $15 tag doesn’t seem too pricey for a special-occasion brew.

Birra Etrusca Bronze is so new it doesn’t even have a BeerAdvocate.com rating yet. But I give it a 6.5 out 10 on the Urban Beer Nerd scale.

Learn more about Dogfish Head Birra Etrusca Bronze on the brewer’s website.

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Ken Schmidt / Iron Fist / Stone Mint Chocolate Imperial Stout Review

Ken Schmidt / Iron Fist / Stone Mint Chocolate Imperial Stout

Ever since I wrote about Stone Brewing Co.’s latest collaboration brew last month I’ve been dying to get my hands on a bottle, because I’m a big fan of Stone’s past collaborations. Yesterday, I found one, and today I’m drinking—and reviewing—it.

I’ve had a few different beer styles flavored with mint in the past, and I was not a fan of any of them. So I was somewhat skeptical of the Ken Schmidt / Iron Fist / Stone Mint Chocolate Imperial Stout before I tasted it. But I’m pleasantly surprised, because this imperial oatmeal stout is delicious. That shouldn’t come as any surprise because the brew was made by three seriously talented brewers: Stone Brewing Co.‘s Mitch Steele, Iron Fist Brewing Co.‘s Brandon Sieminski and home brewer Ken Schmidt, who won Stone’s 2012 home brewing competition with the recipe for this stout.

I poured my stout slowly into a small Stone tasting glass, and it settled with very little head. Its sweet, pungent aroma of chocolate and coffee is immediately apparent, and you can’t really smell any mint. The brew is a beautiful deep-brown color with a tan head.

I let the bottle cool in my refrigerator overnight, but after reading Stone’s suggestion to drink the beer at cellar temperature, I let it sit for 10 minutes or so after removing it from the refrigerator. And I purposely drank it slowly to let the beer near room temperature.

The stout is thick with very fine carbonation. It tastes strongly of chocolate and coffee, and it finishes with a very mild, almost-indistinguishable mint flavor. That’s a good thing, because the mint is secondary to chocolate, coffee and molasses malts, and it compliments them instead of overpowering those flavors. And as the beer warms up, the distinct flavors really pop.

Ken Schmidt / Iron Fist / Stone Mint Chocolate Imperial Stout has an ABV of 9.6%, and the warm alcohol taste combines nicely with the chocolate, coffee and mint. I’m honestly impressed with the brew, and I’d definitely drink it again. I also have to believe that the brew would age very nicely, so I’m going to try to find another one for my cellar.

Ken Schmidt / Iron Fist / Stone Mint Chocolate Imperial Stout started shipping on October 8, and it’s available in 18 U.S. states: Arizona; California; Colorado; Florida; Illinois, Massachusetts; North Carolina; New Mexico; New Jersey; New York; Ohio; Oregon; Pennsylvania; South Carolina; Texas, Virginia, Vermont and Washington. I paid $5 for my 12-ounce bottle, which is reasonable for such a complex, high ABV beer.

Ken Schmidt / Iron Fist / Stone Mint Chocolate Imperial Stout gets an 8/10 on the Urban Beer Nerd scale. (It has a BeerAdvocate.com rating of 91 based on 27 user reviews.)

Check out the video below for more details on the beer and its origins. (Is it me or is the narrator annoying as hell?)

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Ballast Point Indra Kunindra India-Style Export Stout Review

Ballast Point Indra Kunindra India-Style Export Stout

A couple of weeks ago, while visiting San Diego I hit a few bars that had Ballast Point Brewing Co.‘s new Indra Kunindra India-style export stout on tap. (If you’re curious those bars were Downtown Johnny Brown’s and Neighborhood.)

I’m a big fan of San Diego’s Ballast Point—the brewery’s Sculpin IPA is fantastic—but after reading a description of Indra Kunindra, I decided to go with something else. The selection of great beer at these bars is impressive, and the fact that Indra Kunindra is made with both curry spice and cumin, neither of which I really like, was a major turnoff. It kind of just sounded too…weird.

But when I returned to Boston, I found a 22-ounce bottle, and I decided to give it a go.

I poured my Indra Kunindra into a frosted pint glass, and it immediately formed a frothy tan-brown head made of very fine bubbles. The head quickly dissipated, leaving a thin layer of carbonation atop the dark brown brew—it’s not quite black, but very deep brown. And the India-style export stout is thick, but maybe not quite as thick as the average stout.

Ballast Point’s Indra Kunindra has a very mild aroma of spice, earth, coconut and sweet lime citrus. The stout is made with Madras curry spice, coconut, kaffir lime leaf, cayenne and cumin. But no one flavor is overpowering, and they all combine quite nicely. You can taste and smell the lime and coconut more than anything else.  The cayenne pepper leaves you with a notably spicy aftertaste and lingering burn.

Overall, I like this beer much more than I expected to after reading its description, and I regret not trying it on tap in San Diego.

Ballast Point Indra Kunindra India-Style Export Stout

Award-winning home brewer and Ballast Point Senior Brewer Alex Tweet made the brew in honor of the 46th anniversary of San Diego’s Holiday Wine Cellar, with the goal of creating a truly unique beer that pushes the boundaries of home and craft brewing. And he admirably succeeded.

My bottle cost $10.50, so it’s not exactly cheap. But I don’t feel as though that’s an unreasonable price for such a unique brew. It has an ABV of 7.0%. There’s no official Indra Kunindra page on Ballast Point’s website, unfortunately.

Ballast Point Brewing’s Indra Kunindra India-style export stout currently has a BeerAdvocate.com score of 86, based on 45 user ratings. And it gets a 7/10 ranking on the Urban Beer Nerd Scale.

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5 Funky Facts I Learned About Dogfish Head from Founder Sam Calagione’s Business Book

Dogfish Sam Calagione book Brewing Up a Business: Adventures in Beer

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Founder and President Sam Calagione is an interesting guy.

In addition to being a boundary-breaking craft brewer and entrepreneur, Calagione recorded a hip hop album in 2003. (Seriously, he and Dogfish Head brewer Bryan Selders form The Pain Relievaz. See the video clip below. Note: I never said it was a good hip hop album.) Calagione has a college degree in English, though he was kicked out of high school in Western Massachusetts and never received a high school degree. He was a Levi’s model. He literally changed the laws in Delaware in order to open the original Dogfish Head brewhouse, which was the first brewery in the nation’s first state. You get the point.

I know these things because I just finished reading Calagione’s small-business oriented book, Brewing Up a Business: Adventures in Beer from the Founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Calagione’s book is really about how to prepare to launch a small business and then make it successful, so it’s not for all craft beer aficionados. You’ll probably need some degree of interest in small business or entrepreneurship to get the most out it. But I’m no business owner or entrepreneur, and I really enjoyed the book because I’m a huge Dogfish Head fan, and it’s full of little-known facts and anecdotes about Dogfish and Calagione.

Here’s a quick list of five of the more notable things I learned from Brewing Up a Business. I don’t want to spoil the book, so I’ve only listed a handful of facts, but it’s packed with many more details that are sure to be appreciated by fans of Dogfish Head and Calagione:

1) Calagione was on the Ricki Lake show, and Lake tasted the first beer he ever brewed. That first beer was a pale ale made with cherries. And Ricki Lake attended the party he held to taste it shortly after he appeared on Lake’s show.

2) Dogfish made a malt liquor called Liquor de Malt, to prove it could make a better in that style than the established 40-ounce makers. Liquor de Malt was packaged in a 40-ounce bottle that came with a hand-stamped, Dogfish brown bag.

Dogfish Head Liquor de Malt malt liquor 40 ounce

3) Dogfish fans visiting coastal Delaware who want the ultimate brewery and brewpub tour can participant in the Dogfish Head 360 Degree Experience, which includes a hotel room at a local inn that’s customized with Dogfish memorabilia, meals at the brew pub and a boat ride to the Dogfish brewery, where they’ll receive tours and tastings.

4) Dogfish’s second most popular beer behind its 60 Minute IPA, Dogfish 90 Minute IPA, was originally packaged in a bomber bottle that was graced with an image of a circus freak jamming a nail up his nose. Shortly after 90 Minute IPA was released,  the photographer who took the image contacted Calagione to complain about unfair use. He wasn’t pleased until Dogfish sent him a bunch of beer and promised never to use the image again.

Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA original label

5) A 50-barrel brewery system Dogfish outgrew and sold in 2008 is now used by one of my favorite brewers, Northern California’s Russian River Brewing Co., makers of the elusive Pliny the Elder IPA.

The first edition of Calagione’s book was published in 2005, but it was revised and updated in 2010. Surf on over to Amazon.com, where the paperback and digital Kindle editions both cost less than $11.00.

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Images via SarahForst.com, BeerAdvocate.com

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Maine Beer Co. King Titus Porter Review

Maine Beer Company King Titus Porter

When reviewing beers on this blog, I try to evaluate rare or notable brews that may be hard to find but are also widely distributed. I don’t really see value in reviewing beers that anyone can find every day in their corner liquor store. On the other side of the coin, I don’t really like to review beers that are only available to a small percentage of beer drinkers.

I occasionally make exceptions for beers that really blow my mind or for beers that are particularly notable. Today’s review falls into the latter category. Last month, I posted on Maine Beer Co.’s latest creation, King Titus Porter, and I explained how it would soon be hitting beer-store shelves. I found a couple bottles of King Titus this week.

Maine Beer Co., a small brewery in Portland Maine, makes exceptional beers, especially their hoppy ales. (Check out my glowing review of the company’s Lunch IPA.) Maine Beer’s brews are only distributed to eight U.S. states at this point: Maine; Massachusetts; New Jersey; New York; New Hampshire; Philadelphia; Vermont; and Virginia. But Maine Beer’s products are so good, it should only be a matter of time before distribution expands, assuming that’s what the brewers want.

I poured my 1-pint, 9-fluid-ounce bottle of King Titus Porter into a tulip glass with some force and it immediately formed a thick, frothy beige head. The porter is very carbonated, its head composed of tons of very fine bubbles. Its strong, notable bouquet smells sweet and has a hint of vanilla. And it’s a very dark brown color, like creamy dark chocolate.

Maine Beer Company King Titus Porter

King Titus

Like all of Maine Beer’s products, King Titus Porter tastes extremely fresh. My King Titus was bottled less than two weeks ago, so there’s a good reason for that. It’s very malty, and very smooth. It tastes of chocolate and caramel malts; it’s brewed with American 2-Row, caramel 40L, caramel 80L, Munich 10L, chocolate, roasted wheat and flaked-oat malts, according to Maine Beer. And it’s also quite hoppy with a bitter finish thanks to the Centennial and Columbus hops.

King Titus Porter is 7.5%ABV. And my bottle cost $7.50, which is very reasonable for such a high-quality brew.

Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of porters in general. So it’s hard for me rate this particular beer. I can appreciate King Titus for what it is, though: A solid porter created with very fresh ingredients and a lot of love. For that, I give it a 7 out of 10 on the Urban Beer Nerd scale.

Here’s some information from Maine Beer Co. regarding the name of this porter:

Titus was a wonderful, bold silverback gorilla that led with his heart. The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund studies and protects these magnificent animals in the Virunga Volcano Mountains in Rwanda. Maine Beer Company proudly supports their efforts.

Find more details on Maine Beer Co. and King Titus Porter on the brewer’s website. And check out the video clip below for additional information about the brewery.

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Sierra Nevada Pale Ale Mustard is a Perfect Pretzels-and-Beer Companion

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale & Honey Spice mustard with pretzels

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. is one of an increasing number of craft breweries trying to capitalize on the popularity of craft beer by releasing culinary products made with beer. (Last week I reviewed Stone Brewing Co.’s Double Bastard Ale: Double Burn Habanero hot sauce, and earlier this month I spotlighted Brooklyn Brine’s Hop Pickles, which are made with Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA.)

Sierra Nevada makes three different kinds of mustard: Pale Ale & Honey Spice; Porter & Spicy Brown; and Stout & Stoneground mustard. I found a bottle of the Pale Ale and honey mustard at my local craft beer shop, and today I used it as a dipping sauce for my favorite Uncle Henry handmade pretzels.

The Sierra Nevada pale ale mustard is very mild; in fact, it’s more sweet than spicy, thanks to the honey. It would be a great sandwich topping, since it’s not overpowering. Like most of the “beer-flavored” products I’ve had, the mustard doesn’t really taste like beer. But it is quite good, and I definitely recommend it.

Sierra Nevada trio of mustards

I paid $4 for my 9-ounce squeeze-bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale & Honey Spice, but it, along with the other two styles of Sierra mustard, is available directly from the company for $3.75 a bottle, plus shipping. Eight-ounce glass jars of each mustard style are also available from Sierra Nevada for $3.50. And you can buy a “gift pack” of all three mustards for $14.00, plus shipping.

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Maine Beer Company Lunch IPA (Review)

Maine Beer Company's Lunch IPA

“Do what’s right.”

That’s Maine Beer Company‘s motto. It is printed on all of its bottles. And the company is following its own advice, doing what’s right for the New England craft beer scene by brewing some very special beers, including its Lunch India Pale Ale.

Maine Beer Company says Lunch is “our ‘east coast’ version of a West Coast-style IPA.” And I can say without any doubt that Lunch is one of the best east coast IPAs I’ve ever had, and it can hold its own with some of the best West Coast IPAs, too.

Whenever I drink any of Maine Beer’s ales, I’m struck by just how crisp and clean they are. They’re also always extremely fresh, but that probably has to do with the fact that the company’s beers are also always in high demand in and around Boston, so they never sit on store shelves for very long.

Lunch IPA is probably Maine Beer’s most sought-after ale. It’s extremely difficult to find, and many of the liquor stores I frequent never even put it on their shelves; the shops keep Lunch behind the counter or in their storerooms for local beer nerds like myself who will appreciate it.

I slowly poured my Lunch IPA into a medium-size Maine Beer Company goblet, and it gradually formed a nice, frothy head, which didn’t dissipate much before I finished the beer. The color is orange/beige. It’s extremely flavorful, and you immediately taste citrus, mild pine and, of course, lots of fresh hops. Lunch is brewed with Warrior, Amarillo, Centennial and Simcoe hops.

Lunch IPA comes in a 1 pint, 9 FL. OZ. bottle. It has a 7.0% ABV. I paid $8 for my bottle. Maine Beer Company brews are currently available in Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York City, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

Put quite simply, I love Lunch IPA. Lunch is so good that I forgive Maine Beer Company for ditching its beautiful paper labels for cheap-looking plastic ones—though I’m still not happy about it; Maine Beer’s old labels were awesome and unique.  Maine Beer Company’s Lunch IPA gets a 9 out of 10 on the Urban Beer Nerd scale. (It has 95/100 score on BeerAdvocate.com based on 266 user ratings.)

Check out the video below for more information about Maine Beer Company.

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Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze Golden Blend Review

Brouwerij Fonteinen Oude Geuze Golden Blend

What’s better than a nice, aged lambic? Why, a blend of four lambics of different ages, of course. Geuze beers are traditionally unfiltered, unpasteurized blends of one-year, two-year and three-year-old lambics that are bottle conditioned for at least a year, but Belgian brewer Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen‘s Oude Geuze Golden Blend is unique because it’s equal parts one-year, two-year, three-year and four-year old oak-aged lambic.

Oude Geuze Golden Blend is a special creation from Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen’s master lambic blender Armand Debelder, and it is a one-time limited release. As such, it’s quite rare because relatively little of the beer was made.

My 12.7 FL OZ bottle cost me $32—it’s certainly not cheap—and it has been sitting on my shelf for a while now. It was bottled on February 17, 2011. And it has an ABV of 6%. Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen says its Oude Geuze Golden Blend will age well for as long as ten years. But I couldn’t wait another day.

When I opened the bottle its cork nearly took my eye out; it rocketed out of the bottle’s stem as soon as I removed its decorative foil and untwisted the cork cover. I quickly poured the geuze into a small goblet to avoid spillage, and it instantly formed a frothy, bubbly head, like Champagne. It’s darker than I expected, with a tanish, dark-sand color. Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze Golden Blend has a sweet, tangy-and-sour aroma and a funky, musky body. It’s very tart with a mild sour-acidic taste and a surprisingly bitter aftertaste. The aftertaste sort of rubbed me the wrong way at first, because it was unexpected, but it grew on me as I drank the brew.

Before drinking Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze Golden Blend, my favorite geuze was Boon’s Geuze Mariage Parfait. The Golden Blend is a bit more complex, but I think I still prefer Boon’s Geuze Mariage Parfait.

Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze Golden Blend gets a 7/10 rating on the Urban Beer Nerd scale. (It has an impressive rating of 95/100 on BeerAdvocate.com based on 46 user reviews at the time of posting.)

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Spice Up Your Life — and Your Lunch — with Stone Double Bastard Ale: Double Burn Habañero Hot Sauce

Stone Double Bastard Ale: Double Burn Habañero Hot Sauce

Today I took my football-season Sunday chicken-wing-ritual to the next level thanks to Stone Brewing Co.‘s Double Bastard Ale: Double Burn Habañero Hot Sauce. My mouth is still burning as I write this review.

The hot sauce is made with Stone’s Double Bastard strong ale and both habañero and crushed red peppers. Some habañero hot sauces are too hot, and they make eating foods dipped in them a challenge instead of a simple delight. Double Bastard Ale: Double Burn Habañero sauce is definitely hot, but it’s not too hot. And the Double Bastard Ale gives it a nice, sweet hoppy flavor that goes well with the spice.

I made some wings with just the Double Burn sauce and I also mixed some sauce with Frank’s Red Hot, for slightly less spicy wings. Both were delicious. If you like Stone’s Arrogant Bastard Ale or its Double Bastard Ale, and you are a fan of spicy foods, you’ll find a friend in Double Bastard Ale: Double Burn Habañero hot sauce. I know I did.

The sauce is available as part of a three pack directly from Stone for $20 plus shipping. That package includes one five-fluid-ounce bottle of the Double Bastard Ale: Double Burn Habañero sauce; one bottle of Arrogant Bastard Ale: Jalapeño Heat sauce; and one bottle of OAKED Arrogant Bastard Ale: Chipotle. I haven’t tried the other two sauces, but after tasting the Double Burn sauce and Stone’s fantastic Levitation Ale Barbeque Sauce, it’s probably safe to assume they’re similarly delicious.

Stone Brewing Co.'s Burning Trinity of Hot Sauces

Double Bastard Ale: Double Burn Habañero hot sauce is also available individually for $4.25 plus shipping on Amazon.com.

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